Pragmatic advice for coaches, managers & leaders

Managers: How to be a Ninja Coach

How to be Ninja Executive CoachI spent much of my youth rolling around the floor with sweaty men or women, furiously trying to pin them to the floor.

Before you get completely the wrong idea, this photo is of me as a late teenager, following my selection to represent the Great Britain Judo Team at the Junior World Championships in Rome – that’s where the need to grapple people to the floor comes from – absolutely nothing else !

Myths from the Ancient Art

There are a number of time-honoured untruths uttered as if correct, by people who study judo, despite the fact that they don’t hold up in practice:

1. Strength doesn’t matter: honestly, it does. When skill levels are equal, the strongest player tends to win.

2. Size doesn’t matter: Actually it does, a lot, but more from the perspective of the approaches you will need to take to overcome your opponent.

3. Judo means “the gentle way”: Apparently so, but if, as I did once, you’ve ever annoyed the twice World Champion and Olympic Gold medallist in a contest by not “rolling over” and handing him an easy win, believe me, there’s not much gentle about having your arm nearly ripped out of its socket, as he stamps his authority on the fight with just seconds to go ! (Aah, those were the days).

But there is something that is often said about judo which is very true: use the momentum of your opponent to your advantage and turn it into a positive. I used to call it “deal with what you’re offered”.

Dealing with what you’re offered

Coaches can learn a lot from this idea. I don’t mean beating up your client (the person you are coaching) and rolling around the floor with them – please no! but take the replies to a question you have just asked and turn that into the next question that you ask.

Here’s an example from a fictional conversation about a client’s experience of attending a recent meeting*:

Coach: What was that meeting like as an experience?

Client: It was very long and I felt awkward

Coach: What made you feel awkward?

Client: I just didn’t think I had anything useful to say

Coach: How do you know that you didn’t have anything useful to say?  etc etc

(*Sorry, you’d probably worked that out…doh!)

Theory into Practice

You will know, if you have been reading this blog regularly, that I implore you regularly to “keep it real”. Talk to your client as a human being. So, with that in mind, your conversation is clearly not going to be made up wholly of this reflective type of questioning. However, at times you should take what your client has said, use the same keywords and make it into the next powerful question.

The reason it works is in part because if you use the same phrase used by the client it will do wonderful things for building rapport, as you have mirrored their language; it also shows that you are clearly listening to what has been said.

I would strongly urge you to employ this pragmatic advice when you are next in a coaching-type conversation.


If you would like to develop your coaching skills or are thinking of introducing coaching to your management population, please feel free to contact me here or glenn(at) The Services page has further details.